New York

David Rabinowitch

Bykert Gallery

David Rabinowitch’s sculpture is primarily of interest for the way in which it concentrates attention within the work while seeming to be related to a sculptural enterprise that seeks to do the opposite. Rabinowitch is a Canadian, and developed his attitude to sculpture in a milieu as responsive to English art as to American. Perhaps because of this, perhaps for some other reason, his ambition is of a sort that’s opposed to the kind of literal reassertion of the ground plane that occurs in the work of Carl Andre, with whose sculpture his seems at first—to an eye that’s been educated by recent American art—to have marked, if superficial, affinities.

The extent to which Rabinowitch is engaged in an activity that’s distinct in ambition and achievement from those whose work his at first suggests, is indicated by his preoccupation with a traditional notion of sculptural scale. “Scale,” for Rabinowitch, acts to separate the work from the space around it, to make the sculpture discontinuous with the naturally perspectival space that surrounds it. Sculpture, for him, is then not about material—literal—signification, but the interest that Don Judd and Richard Serra have shown in his work suggests that Rabinowitch may be using a vocabulary more ambivalent—larger, and less restrained in its range of reference—than he himself realizes.

Each of his pieces is made of several sections, placed together but not joined. This sectionalizing provides a horizontal orientation that’s countered by the vertical suggestion communicated by the holes bored into the steel. It is these holes which introduce into the work the notion of scale, or rather, scales. In the irregularly octagonal work that is one of the two pieces—part of a series begun in 1970—currently on exhibit, there are six holes of three different sizes. Actually four, but the fourth size represents an enlargement undertaken to provide a point of entry—of access through special focus—into the work, and this largest hole should be thought of as paired with the hole that’s next largest in size. Since there are six sections, as there are six holes, the sense that one gets of a balanced interaction between horizontal extension and a series of vertical convergences—provided by the holes—is quite direct. For, just as the holes provide three scale systems, three possible sets of terms in which to consider the piece—leaving aside for the moment the way in which these systems work on one another—so the different lengths of the sides suggest different kinds of response to the whole configuration. Depending on where one stands, one’s experience of the whole configuration is “speeded up“ or “slowed down” by the length and directionality of the side through which one seeks access to the piece.

I think it is his ability to account for the “optical” signification provided by the introduction of notions of scale in terms that are literally measurable, which makes Rabinowitch’s work as interesting as it is. Moreover, I think it’s essential that the juxtaposition of more than one concept of scale, which complicates the spatial reading of his work, should occur ,in a context of explicit materiality. Rabinowitch’s work needs to be heavy, physically insistent, in order to bring off the sense of a conceptually engendered “opticality”—an experience available to the eye alone—that he strives for. Like Serra—in, I think, only this respect—Rabinowitch requires the presence of extreme heaviness in order to summon up a feeling of weightlessness. But, as I have said, unlike the Americans to whom he seems in one sense comparable, Rabinowitch is engaged in a disruption of natural space that stops at the sculpture’s perimeter. His work, then, is a reconstitution of the idealist notion of the work of art as a privileged space, and how we think of his sculpture must ultimately depend on the degree to which we can still consider that to be a viable idea.

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe